From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 16.1 (1996): 74-90.
Copyright © 1996, The Cervantes Society of America

La gran sultana: Transformations in Secret Speech


In La gran sultana Doña Catalina de Oviedo the pícaro Madrigal serves as a critic standing on the fringes of a culturally diverse society. He also serves as a foil to Doña Catalina and the sultan. So multi-faceted a figure has provoked a good deal of lively critical attention. Jean Canavaggio notes that Madrigal's sufferings offer a burlesque counterpoint to the odyssey of Doña Catalina de Oviedo (Dramaturge 64), and Edward Friedman observes that Madrigal embodies the authority and self-possession lacking in the sultan, a slave to love who never attempts to liberate himself (223). Other critics have remarked upon this pícaro's metatheatrical function. He is “la soterrada voz de Cervantes” (López Estrada 41) who dupes the audience into accepting fiction as fact (Smith) and creates a fantastic, comic world where truths are bared in lightning flashes (Casalduero 140). While the protagonist of Pedro de Urdemalas ultimately discloses his identity as an actor, Madrigal takes a further step into metatheater by unmasking himself as the creator of the entire comic illusion.
     Madrigal fits the protean form of the pícaro. A rogue by nature, he changes professions at the drop of a hat like the protagonist of a picaresque novel. As La gran sultana progresses, his true identity grows more clearly defined. He metamorphoses from “cook” and all-around trouble-maker to tailor, interpreter, teacher, mock priest,


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then finally becomes the artist. My aim is to show how Madrigal's creative and transformative powers manifest themselves in his use of a coded or secret speech intimately linked to his many professions. Madrigal's words clue the audience into his thematic function in the play. Thus key rational and poetic truths underlie his nonsensical claim of teaching an elephant to talk.
     Secret or coded speech is woven throughout La gran sultana. The comedia's language is self-consciously dense with puns, riddles, oxymorons, soliloquies, private prayers, and asides. High and low forms of speech stand in relief to each other, prayer contrasts with blasphemy, and the poet's song elaborates the natural speech of birds and animals. Amid Constantinople's babble of languages, coded words take on greater importance and correspond to its characters' many disguises. Rustán tells “good” lies to protect the Christian truth represented by Doña Catalina's beauty. In contrast to Catalina's many private prayers, the sultan blasphemes in taking her corporal beauty as his God. The theme of prayer culminates near the end of Act III when the pagan tyrant Mamud Arráez publicly receives the blessing of the Christian slave whom he has freed.
     All dramatic characters in La gran sultana recognize the power of secret speech. Notably, the cadí asks Madrigal to maintain secrecy regarding his knowledge of animal languages. Elsewhere, written as opposed to spoken forms of speech appear morally suspect. The written petitions collected by the Grand Turk in the opening scene go unanswered, and his quarreling government ministers present their opinions as documents. In Act III the written document is somewhat redeemed when the cadí's numerous writs replace the harem's vast potential for producing heirs. Coded speech gradually evolves into more public modes. Catalina's prayers and the sultan's wooing lose their intimacy. Madrigal's romance is written to be widely sung, and Catalina's pregnancy is proclaimed far and wide. The Christians' and Moslems' need for secret speech reverse themselves. Late in Act III Catalina can express her frank skepticism of the sultan without penalty, while the sultan, fearing criticisms of his marriage, forbids the cadí from speaking. The play's final revelation of metatheater opens the work to the wider reality of the comedia and the world beyond.
     Naming exerts a powerful influence in La gran sultana. The speech of kings, priests, and poets is transformative. Hence the sultan possesses the power to declare war, and he can kill a subject by decree. But his speech is no match for Christian prayer, which


greatly moves him as he overhears Catalina addressing her Lord. Frequent repetition of Catalina's identity, Doña Catalina de Oviedo, underscores her emerging identity as a Spanish Catholic of the hidalgo class. Similarly, a name hides Lamberto's sexuality. In Act III the poet's words provoke transformation and metatheater, and the audience discovers the illusion behind the title La gran sultana.
     The speech of Madrigal, poet and playwright, contains thick wads of irony and an abundance of humor. Jean Canavaggio has shown that Madrigal's insolence, verbal extravagance, and bold autonomy link him more to the buffoon or court jester tradition than to the traditions of the bobo or gracioso (“Bufón”). Madrigal delivers secret messages to the attentive members of the audience, indulging himself in nonsensical discourses, paradoxes, and riddles. By contrast, the Persian ambassador is asked to speak briefly, i.e., with clarity. Madrigal's imagistic brio provokes his enemies' curiosity and quickly leads to their undoing. He frees himself by promising to teach Greek and Turkish to the Grand Turk's elephant, then coyly admits his ignorance of those languages. We ask ourselves if any sense at all lies behind his shenanigans.
     In Madrigal's cross-cultural love-making, he resembles both Catalina and the sultan. His freedom and mobility throughout the cultures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity contrast wildly with our initial image of Doña Catalina, who is compared to “a rose in a walled garden.” Madrigal attacks the restricting elements of the cultures contained in Constantinople's melting-pot. By throwing bacon into the Jew's stew pot or cazuela, he ridicules the dietary laws of the Torah. By duping the cadí, he similarly undermines Moslem law and prayer. And he tries to loosen Christian prudery by proposing a detachable skirt for Catalina. Madrigal increasingly places himself outside the confines of any one religion. He takes a Moslem lover, outwardly adopts the profession of a converso tailor, but ultimately contributes to the liberation and triumph of a Christian sultaness. As the comedia concludes, he literally moves across the sea to freedom. We are meant to follow him.


     Madrigal displays a gracioso's characteristic interest in elemental pleasures such as food and drink. La gran sultana's many references to la cazuela and to cooking are grounded in the play's central image of el crisol, a vessel for the alchemical transformation of metals. The destructive phase within the art of cooking introduces the play's key

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themes of transformation, resurrection, and the incarnation of a son to unite Christian and Islamic lineages.
     When Madrigal first appears on stage, he has just tossed some bacon into the Jewish cazuela. In the Siglo de Oro the word cazuela —which appears four times in a short space—1 would have been understood, at least subliminally, as a nod to la cazuela, the seats set aside for the common women of Madrid. Unlike Catalina, who has grown up isolated and solitary in her garden, these women comprise a large group on public display. The implied comparison with Catalina's situation heightens their sympathy for her dilemmas about sex, marriage, and pregnancy —dilemmas which must be resolved within the troubling milieu of an alien culture. Though the daughter of an hidalgo, Catalina is an enslaved captive, and her choice of a spouse will define her life and her degree of freedom.
     Madrigal tosses into the Jew's cazuela a piece of bacon which involves everyone within Constantinople's stew of conflicting religions and social classes. The meat was carved from a boar killed by Janissaries (members of the sultan's private guard and sons of Christians) and was sold to Madrigal by the sultan's Christian slaves. Madrigal's arrogant attack on the stew pot is designed to bring about the death and destruction of the Jews, whom he believes to be engorged by the devil. His plan to make way for a renewal of Christian purpose coincides with the comedia's theme of transformation through death.
     Elsewhere in the play, la cazuela is linked to el crisol, the alchemist's crucible for the smelting of metal and the search for gold. Significantly, the crisol is egg-shaped and made of earth.2 Mamí lauds Catalina's beauty by describing how the sun in its daily course has robbed all of nature to “smelt” her beauty in a crisol (383 ll. 386-89). The sultan compares her to a field on an April morning and predicts that his eye, like the sun, will adorn her nakedness. His profligacy, however, creates havoc in the hierarchy of being, and he neglects his governmental duties in favor of adoring Catalina —blasphemously— as if she were a goddess.

     1 Cervantes, Miguel de, Teatro Completo. Edición, introducción y notas de Florencio Sevilla Arroyo y Antonio Rey Hazas. Barcelona, España: Editorial Planeta, 1987, pp. 385-86 ll. 422-60. This edition is used throughout for quotations and reference.
     2 “CRISOL.s.m. Vaso de cierta tierra arenífica, de la hechura y forma de un medio huevo, en que los plateros funden el oro y la plata.” (Covarrubias Orozco, Sebastián. Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española. (Madrid: Ediciones Turner, 1611. p. 66).


     Catalina, who will give birth, is herself likened to a crisol, a vessel traditionally symbolizing the body and connoting pure, spiritual gestation (Cirlot 235). The imagery of La gran sultana frequently refers to el sol as the source of life, growth, and transformation. These images coincide with the Neoplatonic notion of the sun as an emblem for divine governance and universal harmony. According to the Neoplatonists, both kingship and womanly beauty reflect divine power (Valbuena Briones 54-69). In La gran sultana the sultan's kingship is often echoed in the familiar symbols of the lion and eagle and in references to the celestial sun and to gold, the “subterranean sun.” (Cirlot 180). Catalina is compared to a lassoed tiger, connoting leonine power and repressed sexuality. Late in the play Madrigal's romance praises her as the sun, and his ballad tells how her beauty —like sudden daylight— startled her royal groom (438 ll. 2284-86; 439 ll. 2315-2322). Climactically, when Catalina has achieved full public stature as a quintessentially Spanish sultana, she is identified with the lion:

     Hoy Catalina es sultana,
hoy reina, hoy vive y hoy vemos
que del león otomano
pisa el indomable cuello;

(439 ll. 2335-38)


     In his role as transformer, Madrigal abruptly declares himself a tailor, as if entering any profession were a simple matter of self-baptism. But his words do not yet contain the same transformative power as the sultan's. Mamud Arráez can decree a slave his queen. Madrigal, however, must grapple with the practical problem of saving his own neck. He hollowly brags about his dubious appointment (“aquella elefantil cátedra mía” 454 l. 2897) and erroneously attributes his own salvation to his pachyderm pupil (“¡Gracias a Dios y a mi dicípulo!” 426 l. 1900). Nonsensically, he couples his powers of inward and outward transformation, as both the elephant's professor and Catalina's tailor, and he plays on the phrase ‘cortar un traje,‘ meaning murmurar, hablar:

     yo soy aquel nombrado
maestro del elefante;
y quien ha de hacer hablar
a una bestia, en el cortar
de vestir será elegante.

(420 ll.1685-89)

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     In styling himself a tailor, Madrigal makes no claims to moral rectitude. In the Siglo de Oro the tailor was often condemned as a deceiver. Quevedo's Sueños portray the sastre as one of those hellish craftsmen who deceive by altering outward appearance. Quevedo's red-haired sastre is linked to red-haired Judas, a Jewish heretic and usurer (Caminero 86-89). Ottmar Hegyi has shown that in Madrigal's underworld slang, the term sastre or tarasí denoted a thief.3 Furthermore, the sastre was often suspected of being a converso or Jew, the enemy Madrigal has only recently derided. Removing a mask, Madrigal admits to Catalina's father that he has no garment-making skills, and he contrasts himself with Judas by way of reassuring the audience that he will not betray Catalina.

MADRIGAL Pues yo a Judas me encomiendo      
si sé coser un remiendo.
CRISTIÁN: ¡Ved qué gentil tarasí!
Aunque pienso, con mi maña,
antes que a fuerza de brazos,
de sacar de aquí retazos
que pueden llevarme a España.

(421 ll. 1715-1721) [italics added]

Both Madrigal and Cristián employ words referring simultaneously to cloth and language (remiendo, retazos).4 Their words reveal the textures of disguise and secret speech at a moment when Madrigal is masquerading as a tailor and Cristián has not yet disclosed his identity as Catalina's father.
     Madrigal has no interest in the practicality of a costume, only in its message. His proposed dress for Catalina's trousseau is unwearable. Its fabric of precious metals would encumber her like the wealth and weight of high office, preventing any escape to Spain. But the golden threads also contain the power of alchemical transformation. The detachable skirt announces Catalina's impending loss of virginity, her sexual awakening, and Madrigal's own lascivious interests.

     3 Tarasí “is the Turkish equivalent of sastre, used in the germanía in the sense of ‘ladrón or estafador que corta bolsas o emplea artimañas para despojar a la gente de su dinero’ (Alonso Hernández, LMSO, s.v.).” Likewise, cortar is linked to stealing, as in the term cortabolsas (cut-purse). (Ottmar Hegyi, Cervantes and the Turks: Historical Reality versus Literary Fiction in La gran sultana and El amante liberal. Juan de la Cuesta, Newark, Delaware, 1992. p. 154.)
     4 Remiendo: a patch of cloth and a correction or emendation. Retazo: a remnant of cloth or a fragment of a speech or essay.


     Madrigal's pose as a tailor underscores the true skill and importance of Cristián, the embodiment of Spanish Christianity. Surprisingly, Cristián intends to steal precious cloth, like a corrupt tailor, but he acts with the laudable motive of financing his passage to Spain.5 The moral ambiguity of his circumstances challenges any reductive black-and-white notions the audience may entertain. Moral issues are further confounded when the jealous sultan actually suspects the good Catholic hidalgo of black magic. He orders Cristián killed, labelling him an imposter, sorcerer, and basilisk. The good and true Cristián is paired with the trickster Madrigal, and both are carried off by eunuchs to be phallically impaled.
     The “tailor” Madrigal claims to have a big scissors, a phallic image corresponding to the sultan's sword elsewhere and of course to Cervantes' pen. As playwright the pícaro will demonstrate that the pen is mightier than the sword, furthering the Cervantine theme of arms and letters.

pues soy sastre y español,
y de tan grande tijera
que no la tiene en su esfera
el gran tarasí del sol

(419 ll. 1650-53)

Ottmar Hegyi points out that la tijera often referred to the fore and middle fingers “used by the thief to steal,” and he interprets the phrase “el gran tarasí del sol” as “the great tailor who stole the sun,” words implying a hyperbolic degree of skill (154-155). But the phrase “el gran tarasí del sol” could also be interpreted as “the great tailor who made the sun,” particularly in light of the comedia's many references to sol as the Neoplatonic source of life and transformation. If both interpretations are correct, Madrigal is blasphemously claiming powers greater than God's. He is asked, “¿Quién os metió a ser sastre?” and answers, “el diablo, a lo que creo, y no otro alguno” (431 ll. 2094-95). His words define him as a Cervantine surrogate poet with roots in the demonic, an identification explored by Alban Forcione. Cervantes' stand-ins for the artist often inhabit a fecund,

     5 The situation of Cristián and Catalina reverses that of Ejemplo 32 of El conde Lucanor. While the weavers of Ejemplo 32 play on their subjects' greed and their fear of revealing illegitimacy, Cristián's plan to finance his family's return to Spain is built upon his legitimate blood tie to Catalina, though both father and daughter are slaves and therefore lack the full legal rights of free men. Jean Canavaggio has explored other probable connections between Madrigal and the false weavers of Ejemplo 32 (Canavaggio, “Huella”).

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imaginative underworld well outside civilization and social conventions, and they find their place within the long literary tradition linking poetry and lying (Aristotle 305-316).


     Madrigal's frequent identifications with animals represent an artist's fecund contacts with the unconscious (Cirlot 13). Madrigal especially associates himself with roasted animals, in oblique references to religious sacrifice. When he promises the cadí to interpret birds' songs, he is generously offering to retrieve knowledge lost after the Golden Age.6 His use of animals' speech celebrates Nature nonsensically and triumphantly.
     In contrast to Madrigal, Doña Catalina sees Nature as a threat. Mamí announces that the sultan is coming to see her, and she responds “¡Vista para mí mortal!” as if the sultan's glance were a basilisk's (406 l. 1159). Act I ends with Catalina's soliloquizing prayer to Christ the Good Shepherd. She imagines the sultan as a wolf and herself a lamb, the traditional symbol of Christ. As Act II opens, Madrigal's flagrant sexuality starkly contrasts with Catalina's celibacy. The pícaro has been caught in flagrante delicto with his Arab lover and now faces death. The Arab woman's undoubtedly forced confession offsets Madrigal's irrepressible verbal play. Like Catalina at this juncture, Madrigal refuses to convert to Islam and marry, though he would gain physical freedom. The pícaro insists upon ‘free love ’ and freedom of thought. Unlike Catalina, who rescues others from death, Madrigal refuses to extricate his Arab lover. Though his hands are tied, he cockily predicts his own liberation and demands that the cadí order the soldiers away before he'll explain any animal prophecies. Ironically, Madrigal's insistence on this extra, literally disarming degree of discretion, heightens his credibility in the eyes of the cadí.
     Confident of his ultimate liberation, the pícaro spins a tall tale for the benefit of the gullible cadí: On his way to the home of his Arab lover, Madrigal tells us, he overheard a nightingale (“un ruiseñor pequeñuelo”) singing in the home of a Jew. Fabricating and

     6 “There is a fragment by Callimachus on the Age of Saturn, in which animals have the power of speech (this being a symbol of the Golden Age which preceded the emergence of the intellect —Man— when the blind forces of Nature, not yet subject to logos, were endowed with all sorts of extraordinary and exalted qualities). Hebrew and Islamic traditions also include references to ‘speaking animals’” (Cirlot 11).


prevaricating with the greatest of poetic license, he claims the Jew gave him a warning to convey to the cadí. Madrigal, is, of course, perverting his earlier encounter with the owner of the cazuela. The nightingale sings “with divine harmony,” and Madrigal converts the Jew's death wish for him to a celestial prediction of death not only for the cadí but also for the entire Islamic kingdom. Curiously, the exotic character and “otherness” of the Jews make the outrageous story more credible to Madrigal's infidel victim.
     The teller of tales claims that his stories carry the authority of antique civilizations. In making his predictions he cites Apollonius of Tyana, the Pythagorean “ancestor” who allegedly taught him to understand the birds' speech. But Madrigal's words reveal him as the lying poet caught in the act of composing. The spontaneity of the scene is evident in his subconscious link between una brizna (the ‘string ’ of a string bean) and other plants, the hierbas and yezgos to be added to the cadí's waters of ablution. Ad-libbing, Madrigal continues to complicate his instructions for the cadí's supposed salvation. He hoodwinks his victim by inventing secrets and promising him everything —including health in body and soul and the sultan's undying gratitude. His too-good-to-be-true offers are the sure sign of a charlatan. But the cadí ignores the many hidden warnings, and the audience, distracted by his masterful duping, loses track of its own manipulation.
     In order to disguise his own threat as a bold schemer and master of deceit, Madrigal diminishes himself in the eyes of the cadí. He twice refers to himself as a poor unfortunate, and claims to be no stronger than a string bean (398-399 ll. 905, 914). With comic vividness he paints the threat of death by dismemberment and so diminishes the cadí's power to menace him with it. Madrigal outwits his victim with knowledge originating inside the cadí's own culture. Eusebius, one of the biographers of Apollonius of Tyana, reports that the Arabs understood birds:

     “And moreover he acquired an understanding of the languages of animals; and he learned this, too, in the course of his travels through Arabia, where the inhabitants best know this language and practice it. For the Arabians have a way of understanding without difficulty swans and other birds when they presage the future in the same way as oracles” (Eusebius 509).

     Madrigal claims familiarity not only with the language of birds but also with dozens of ‘hominid’ languages, even the particularized, eccentric language of the blind. In this claim to extravagant

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fluency he resembles Cervantes' other surrogate poets. For the most part, as Forcione has discussed, these surrogates welcome multi-lingualism and refuse to equate protean variety with a malificent, confusing Tower of Babel. They consciously reject any striving for a single, unifying source for their vocabulary and find joy in the font of language, in “its indeterminateness, its promiscuity, and its adaptability” (Forcione, Lawlessness 188-93).
     For Madrigal, the natural diction of animals contains an elder wisdom connecting the “lowest” and the “highest” grammars in the Chain of Being. Within the babble of languages inhabiting Constantinople, Madrigal's lies and nonsense contain layers of meaning that can be correctly interpreted only in their entirety. His description of birds presents a portrait of human society in miniature. In Medieval and Renaissance iconography, birds symbolize human souls and each species enjoys an assigned personality (Cirlot 27). According to Madrigal, Apollonius of Tyana understood the entire hierarchy of birds from the humble sparrow to the imperial eagle.

Ora cantase el canario,
ora trinase el jilguero,
ora gimiese la tórtola,
ora graznasen los cuervos,
desde el pardal malicioso
hasta el águila de imperio,
de sus cantos entendía
los escondidos secretos.

(398 ll. 886-93)

The sparrow's reputed lasciviousness and trickery contrast with the eagle's spiritual power, and the faithful turtledove offsets the deceitful crow.
     When Madrigal stuffs predictions into the beak of the lying crow, he is playing on the bird's fame as a prognosticator, and the audience surely recognizes the crow as an emblem of the charlatan. Covarrubias notes that “nació llamar echacuervos a los que con embelecos y mentiras engañan los simples” (Covarrubias 383). Like Madrigal, the crow had also gained renown as a “cortesano chocarrero,” a teller of vulgar jokes (Canavaggio “bufón” p. 49, citing Covarrubias p. 384). Since the crow was said to imitate the human voice, Madrigal's fabrications presage the appearance of the parrot at the end of Act III (Covarrubias 383). Madrigal's use of the nightingale is notable for that bird's association with death. According to Christian tradition, the dying nightingale sings with ever-growing mastery


from dawn till the bird's final hour (Vries 341). Likewise, Madrigal spontaneously composes poetry while living under the threat of death, and his voice gains in eloquence as the play progresses.


     Madrigal refers to his first pupil as “aquel valiente elefante.” During the Siglo de Oro elephants were traditionally held in high regard for their size, longevity, memory, and wisdom (Vries 161). The animal was said to love and honor its caretakers, to exhibit goodness and prudence, and even to show a sense of justice and self-sacrifice. It was considered so human a creature that, according to Pliny, its dexterous trunk was commonly called a “hand.” Covarrubias' description of the animal's virtues and history runs to nine pages (494-502).
     In La gran sultana Madrigal's pachyderm pupil stands as a mock model for its owner, the sultan. Iconographic and literary tradition emphasizes the elephant's regal status. The animal was reportedly unable to kneel or ‘bow down,’ and an elephant herd dutifully follows the lead or king elephant. The elephant universally symbolizes the human phallus and the strength of the libido but without a connotation of lechery (Vries 92, 161), since elephants mate for life and remain faithful (Covarrubias 495). Contrary to the sultan's tyrannical impetuosity, the elephant exhibits Christian mercy. Covarrubias details its gentle regard for the Christian lamb: “Contra los flacos y poco poderosos es clementíssimo el elefante; e assí andando entre las ovejas, suele quando pasa desviarlas suavemente con la trompa por no hollarlas.” The elephant herd comes to the defense of an individual under siege “con tanta orden como si fuesen mandados y governados por razón” (Covarrubias 496). Madrigal's inane assignment of “teaching” the elephant to talk comments on the sultan's silence, since the sultan holds his tongue in two key public scenes, in accepting written petitions from the poor and in meeting the Persian ambassador.
     Madrigal speaks to his pupil through an ear trumpet, a device which loosely inverts the shape of the elephant's phallic trunk and reaches up to its ear. Madrigal's amplification of his own speech ridicules the mistaken notion that increased volume renders a foreign speech more comprehensible. The ear trumpet is a contrary device: It can keep Madrigal's words more secret than shouting, so that ironically the instrument used to increase volume perversely maintains secrecy.

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     As a tailor, Madrigal changes outward appearance, but as a teacher he transforms inner thought and understanding. He “teaches” the audience by cluing them in, from time to time, on the trick of metatheater. As a mock teacher he deceives the cadí with abundant misinformation. When he gives Catalina dancing lessons, he is leading her through the steps of a skilled grace that is hers by birthright: “No hay mujer española que no salga / del vientre de su madre bailadora” (p. 433 ll. 2121-22). Madrigal encourages her to express her sexuality through zarabandas and other popular forms frequently condemned as lascivious. Her dance steps and her elaborate Christian costume reclaim the Spanish national character, and the musicians are prompted to praise dance as the essence of Siglo de Oro theater, presaging the play's celebration of metatheater.


     In his role as instructor of both the elephant-sultan and the cadí, Madrigal directs Islamic law and prayer, two forms of secret speech. He says farewell to the cadí in the manner of a mock priest dismissing a penitent from the confessional:

¡Penitencia, gran cadí;
penitencia y buen deseo
de no hacer de aquí adelante
tantos tuertos a derechos!

(401 ll. 986-89)

Since both priests and kings ideally reflect Christ, Madrigal's distance from the Christian ideal of a priest underscores how far the sultan strays from the ideal of the Catholic King Philip (mentioned in the scene with the Persian ambassador).
     Madrigal's nightingale sings “with divine harmony” as if he were conveying the word of God, and the bird uses approximate religious jargon about ‘avoiding the near occasion of sin’ and ‘straying from the path.’ Covarrubias associates Madrigal's nightingale with spring and dawn, connoting transformation and rebirth (Covarrubias 917). The bird warns that Madrigal will fall into a garlito, a fish trap or snare. Of course the cadí should intuit a warning to himself, but he instead commends his life to Madrigal and calls him his savior, effectively reversing their positions of power.
     Madrigal, the false priest and a comic stand-in for Christ, sees himself as food, just as Christ's flesh is offered in the form of bread. Madrigal often describes himself in terms of a fish, a recognized emblem for Christ which also connotes primal waters, ablution, and


renewal (Cirlot 10-13). Madrigal and his lover were earlier threatened with being thrown into the sea. He now portrays himself as a dish made up of two disreputable fishes, el atún and la tenca (p. 433 ll. 2139-40). Covarrubias defines la tenca as: “Pez conocido que se cría en los estanques y lagunas . . .  Susténtase del cieno y assí su alimento es dañoso.” Regarding the tuna, he observes, “son impetuosos los atunes y dentro de las almadravas se matan, no sin algún peligro, por las coleadas que dan tan fuertes e impetuosas . . . pez grande y feroz” (958, 166). The word atún colloquially denotes a rough, ignorant person. In the 1655 Antwerp sequel to Lazarillo de Tormes, the pícaro (drunk on the abundant wine that prevents his drowning) is changed into a tuna (Segunda).
     Madrigal's nonsense speech attempts to govern Moorish law and prayer, a collection of seemingly indecipherable codes. Like Catalina, he tries to persuade Moorish overlords to right injustices. In fact, he does manage to dupe the cadí into restoring privileges to a widow and a few others. In Act II scene 1 the cadí must perform the zalá —the same rite which the powerful sultan (accompanied by 6000 soldiers) performed at Santa Sophia in Act I scene 1. But Madrigal's instructions now subvert the power of that prayer. Before reciting the zalá, the cadí must first wash with water prepared according to Madrigal's instructions. Thus Madrigal invents a secret that prevents the cadí from deriving power from his own culture's secret, ceremonial speech.
     Like a mock Christ, Madrigal lives under a constant threat of death, however comically. And while Catalina desires the pain and glory of martyrdom, Madrigal narrowly avoids the fates inflicted on Christian martyrs. Describing his close call with impalement, he reports, “Media entena habían preparado y puesto / a punto para ser asador de mis redaños” (p. 431 ll. 2085-86). His words compress allusions to impalement, death at sea, and immolation at the stake. The wooden asador resembles the entena, a lateen yard or long beam; according to Covarrubias, “antiguamente los asadores eran de palo” (Covarrubias 155). The image of a roasting spit implicitly merges the pícaro with food, animal sacrifice, and the natural world of the unconscious.
     Madrigal's later chat with a musician suggests transformation of a death threat into a matter for eating, drinking, and celebration:

[MÚSICO lo]: A no volver ensí la gran sultana
tan presto, ¡cuál quedábades, bodega!
MADRIGAL: Como conejo asado, y no en parrillas.

(431 ll. 2095-97)

16.1 (1996) La gran sultana: Transformations in Secret Speech 87

The word parrillas (a grill or gridiron resembling the grapevines over a pergola or arbor [Covarrubias 854]) recalls the gridiron as an instrument of torture and martyrdom, particularly for St. Lawrence. When the musician calls Madrigal bodega or “borracho” in a fond and friendly way, the word hints at wine as Christ's blood; Madrigal's own blood would have been spilt if the sultana had not revived so quickly. Later, the musicians' curse on Madrigal — “¡Mala Pascua os de Dios!” (431 l. 2099)— wishes him death in the form of a failed Resurrection.
     Madrigal selects as his ancestor of choice the Greek Apollonius of Tyana, who was condemned as a false Christ. Apollonius, a Pythagorean religious and ascetic leader of the first century A. D., was said to have been born under miraculous circumstances. As a youth he conversed with sages in the temple, and later he reportedly raised a woman from the dead and performed exorcisms. Eventually Apollonius explored and proselytized as far away as Spain, Africa, and India, where he was sometimes looked upon as a god. In the third century A.D. Philostratus wrote a biography of Apollonius; and soon thereafter the Christian Eusebius attacked a treatise which drew parallels between Christ and Apollonius (Hastings 611). A modern biographer of Apollonius notes that “Ever since the sixteenth century, cautious printers appended the dissertation of Eusebius to their editions of Philostratus —‘ order to provide the antidote with the poison,’ as one of them naively stated” (Schnur 83). Other Christian scholars, even in the nineteenth century, have preached that the figure of Apollonius was fabricated as a pagan rival to Christ.7
     Commentators have noted the similarities between Damos, Apollonius's traveling companion and first chronicler, and Cervantes' Sancho Panza.8 As a significant Pythagorean, Apollonius was known to the Renaissance Neoplatonists, and given the Florentine Neoplatonic revival, Cervantes was probably familiar with the biography of Apollonius. Pythagoreanism also had a large influence on the Arab world, and the cadí obviously respects the opinions of the sage Apollonius of Tyana.

     7 Albert Reville, Apollonius of Tyana, the Pagan Christ of the Third Century, [English trans.], London, 1866 p. 52. Also, G. R. S. Mead, Apollonius of Tyana: The Philosopher Reformer of the First Century A.D., London: 1901, p. 112. Both cited in James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. I. Assisted by John A. Selbie and Louis H. Gray. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908; 1957, p. 609.
     8 Albert Reville and G. R. S. Mead. See above.



     As a dramatic character, Madrigal is clearly a foil or type. The text of La gran sultana never explores his past, his psychology, or the gradual liberation of his will, and he possesses none of Doña Catalina's unique inner life. Unlike Catalina, Madrigal forms his decisions without struggle or guilt, and with little sense of social responsibility. He remains nearly silent on the subject of his own metamorphoses. Nevertheless, his use of language in all its kaleidoscopic potential guides our comprehension of the play's themes. The muse makes Madrigal cocky. He no more understands the words of the sultan's zalá than he can teach an elephant to talk. Still he exhibits courage even in the face of power, rite, and divine mysteries, with his hands tied, and living under the threat of death. The rise of his courage and temerity follows La gran sultana's theme of transformation through near-death experiences or threat of death.
     In the professional guise of cook, teacher, sastre, and mock priest, Madrigal illustrates reality's changing aspects. His metamorphoses continue even after the comedia ends. Stuart Miller has pointed out that the pícaro's overwhelming desire to survive motivates his ceaseless adaptations to rapid-fire changes in the environment, even to the extreme of taking on animal forms. These multiple metamorphoses chip away at the pícaro's integrity and at his very personality (Miller 70-71). But the figure of Madrigal stands in opposition to this picaresque tendency. As the playwright and creator of the entire illusion, Madrigal maintains his self-determination. His bold autonomy contrasts with the sultan's flimsy tyranny, and his courageous shenanigans and eventual escape offset Catalina's confinement.
     In defining the Cervantine figure of the artist pícaro, Forcione has observed that “both the individual and his speech are in a state of flux in the continual interplay of self and circumstances that defines experience” (Lawlessness 189). Madrigal's identity as a mock priest links him to what Forcione calls the protean form of the pícaro. In Cervantes' use of priestly phrases the artist emerges as a Proteus figure and “a type of god of a fallen kingdom” (Aristotle 333). Madrigal joins Ginés de Pasamonte, Clemente in La gitanilla, and the title character of Pedro de Urdemalas as a Cervantine figure of the protean pícaro transformed into artist (Aristotle 323-28).


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Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes